Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Photograph by Christian Heeb, laif/Redux
World Heritage sites can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Chosen for their natural or cultural signficance, these unique sites are protected and preserved by the countries—187, as of June 2010—that adhere to the World Heritage Convention.
Here, Victoria Falls—created by the Zambezi River plunging up to 324 feet (99 meters) into basalt gorges—stretches from southern Zambia into Zimbabwe. The Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls World Heritage site includes a conservation area covering 7,142 square miles (18,500 square kilometers).
Photograph by Naftali Hilger, laif/Redux
The World Heritage site of Timbuktu includes three mosques and 16 cemeteries and mausoleums that reflect its heritage as a center of Islamic learning in Africa. Among its madrassas, or Muslim places of study, is the historic Dingareyber mosque, pictured here.
The Great Wall, China
Photograph by Bu Xiangdong, Xinhua Press/Corbis
Snow blankets China’s Great Wall, a feat of construction and strategy stretching over 2,000 years of shifting conflicts and civilizations. A World Heritage site since 1987, the architecturally and culturally significant structure is recognized as an integral accomplishment in human history.
Mountain Railways, India
Photograph by Christian Kaiser, laif/Redux
Three historic railways comprise a World Heritage site recognizing their importance in trade and technological development. Still in use today, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (pictured here), Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and Kalka Shimla Railway were all begun or completed in the 19th century.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Photograph by Anthony Johnson, Getty Images
The stretch of coral reef known as the Great Barrier Reef is the most extensive on Earth. Ranging from Australia’s northeast coast to Papua New Guinea, the reef supports an array of species as a natural habitat and feeding and nesting ground. It became a World Heritage site in 1981.
Casa Milà, Spain
Photograph by Karl-Heinz Raach, laif/Redux
The rooftop of Barcelona’s Casa Milà exhibits the eclectic style of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). Seven of Gaudí’s buildings make up a World Heritage site recognizing the creativity and innovation of his work, including Casa Milà, La Sagrada Familia, and Park Güell. All are located in and around Barcelona in the architect’s native province of Catalonia.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Photograph by Thomas Linkel, laif/Redux
The natural beauty and historic significance of the scenic Amalfi Coast—where human settlement dates to the early Middle Ages—were recognized by UNESCO with a World Heritage listing in 1997. Towns along the coast—like Positano, pictured here—feature important architectural and cultural sites within their picturesque communities.
Pueblo de Taos, New Mexico
Photograph by Panoramic Images/Getty Images
The pre-Hispanic adobe architecture unique to New Mexico’s Pueblo de Taos reflects the culture heritage of the region’s Pueblo Indians. Named a World Heritage site in 1992, Pueblo de Taos consists of stepped dwellings once used for housing, storage, and religious ceremonies.
Old Quebec, Canada
Photograph by Richard T. Nowitz, National Geographic
The century-old Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel overlooks the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Historic architecture, heritage conservation, and North America’s oldest preserved ramparts earned the Historic District of Old Quebec recognition as a World Heritage site in 1985.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Photograph by Frank Tophoven, laif/Redux
Called the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu by UNESCO, this World Heritage site is a remarkable remnant of the Inca Empire. Over 62 miles (100 kilometers) from the Inca capital of Cusco in present-day Peru, the ancient city built into the surrounding mountainous landscape is one of the world’s best known archeological sites.
Amazon Basin, Brazil
Photograph by Kevin Schafer, National Geographic
Freshwater dolphins are among the threatened species protected within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, a biologically diverse habitat that became a World Heritage site in 2000. Covering nearly 15 million acres (6 million hectares), the site makes up the Amazon Basin’s largest protected area.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.